People & Places

Two Cedar Rapids men being honored Friday as 'citizen heroes'

Brock Staley, Ken Blazek knew what to do when house exploded

Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette

Brock Staley (left) and Ken Blazek stand this week in front of the foundation of a home at 1361 20th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids. The two will be honored as “citizen heroes” at today's Iowa-Nebraska football game for their quick action in saving a neighbor after a natural gas explosion and fire at her home on June 27. Blazek's home is shown at left.
Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette Brock Staley (left) and Ken Blazek stand this week in front of the foundation of a home at 1361 20th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids. The two will be honored as “citizen heroes” at today's Iowa-Nebraska football game for their quick action in saving a neighbor after a natural gas explosion and fire at her home on June 27. Blazek's home is shown at left.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Brock Staley and Ken Blazek don’t see themselves as heroes for saving their 64-year-old neighbor after her house exploded and caught fire in June.

But they’ll be honored as “citizen heroes” at Friday’s Iowa-Nebraska football game in Iowa City.

“We’re overwhelmed,” Blazek said. “It’s exciting.”

“I was like ‘What?’ when I heard,” Staley said. “Being a firefighter, I just reacted.”

Staley, a former firefighter for more than 12 years with the Hudson and Marion fire departments, said he was sitting in his living room, watching television, when he heard a huge “blast” that shook his house about 6:30 p.m. June 27.

He ran out and saw gray smoke pouring from his neighbor Diane Barnes’ house, two doors down.

He immediately told his 7-year-old daughter to go to the other side of the house. His wife was grilling in the backyard, so he hollered at her to call 911. He grabbed two fire extinguishers and ran to Barnes’ house at 1371 20th Ave. SW.

“I did a 180 around the house to see where Diane was in the house,” Staley said. “She was in the living room, next to the kitchen.”

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At the same time, Blazek, who lives between Staley and Barnes, was coming back from mowing another neighbor’s yard, walking down the alley behind their houses when he heard and felt the explosion.

“I saw Brock with fire extinguishers and ran to my garage to grab a wrench and turned off the gas before Brock went in,” Blazek said. “I knew where the meter was because I had just mowed over there. I knew they had to get out of there because it was burning hot and fast. The north and west walls had blown out. The picture window blew across the street.”

Staley found Barnes on the floor, her arms and shoulders badly burned. Her head and cheek also had burns, likely from the “flashover” on the kitchen and living room ceiling, he said.

“She was probably in shock, but she was coherent, and I got her out,” Staley said. “The whole thing was probably over in about 12 seconds.”

Barnes survived her injuries but still is recovering.

Blazek, an electronic technician with Rockwell Collins, said it was fortunate nobody else was hurt and that neither his nor Staley’s homes were damaged.

The explosion, caused by a natural gas leak, blew out a power line, and 14th Street SW, to the west of the house, is a busy road with a lot of walkers.

Blazek doesn’t have any firefighter experience but serves on the safety committee at Rockwell, which, he said, makes sure employees have the proper training and follow procedures in emergency situations. He knew it was important to get the gas shut off.

Blazek said he also hosed down his house after Staley and Barnes got out and before firefighters arrived. His house wasn’t damaged, though two trees were scorched.

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Blazek and Staley said they look forward to attending today’s football game with their families.

The citizen hero awards are presented by the American Red Cross, Hy-Vee and the University of Iowa and the University of Nebraska at the annual football game to showcase “extraordinary citizens in both states,” according to the Red Cross.

Blazek and Staley will be joined on the field by Brett Bailes, Chris Holbeck and Dennis Wilson of Omaha, who will be recognized as Nebraska’s 2016 citizen heroes. They will be treated to pregame activities, including an indoor tailgate at Kinnick Stadium.

During halftime, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta and Shawn Eichorst from the University of Nebraska will present the awards. The names of this year’s five heroes will be inscribed on the Hy-Vee Heroes Game trophy.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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